It seemed like a very early start on Saturday for what is not that long a trip. I know that Halloween is around the corner, but I was still surprised to see two women on the tube in fancy dress before 9am. I was at Euston in plenty of time for the train that I had booked on Monday only to find that it was cancelled. Thankfully, there was a slower train leaving 5 minutes later so I would still be in Wigan before 1. I felt for those who were travelling to stations beyond Preston, who would likely have to wait another hour for a train.
When I arrived at the designated pub, Graham and the Happy Valleys were already in place and Jacque had beaten me there having come up on the same train unbeknownst to me. The pub had a great selection of real ales which were supplemented by a large variety of ales and ciders as there was a beer festival going on. The staff and locals were friendly. It was a really lovely place. When the time came, one of the bar staff pointed us in the right direction for the ground and we found ourselves following the signs for the Rugby League World Cup until a local directed us down to the canal for the last leg of the journey.
On arrival at the ground, the stewards were friendly and not that interested in searching my bag, I almost had to insist. Once inside, the Women of Watford booking went awry as the seat designation on the ticket was far from intuitive and the stewards had told people to sit where they liked, so Jacque was several rows up from where she should have been and I thought I should join her. The mood in the away end was good following the tremendous win last week, and it went up a notch when “Just Can’t Get Enough” was played over the tannoy.
Team news was that there were two injury-enforced changes from the Luton game with Cathcart and Davis making way for Sierralta and Bayo. So, the starting line-up was Bachmann; Kamara, Sierralta, Troost-Ekong, Gosling; Kayembe, Choudhury; Sarr, João Pedro, Sema; Bayo.
The first chance of the game went to the home side with a shot from distance by Keane that was straight at Bachmann. The McClean baiting started early with a few boos and a delightful individual behind me calling him “scum” and wishing him dead. The Irishman was involved in the next move with a free kick that was met by the head of Keane but flew just wide of the near post. Then a deep cross from Darikwa reached McClean in the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner.
The first caution of the game went to Darikwa for a foul on Kamara. The first chance for the Hornets came from a Sarr free kick which reached Gosling who crossed for Bayo whose header was over the bar. A lovely exchange of passes between João Pedro and Bayo finished with a shot from the Brazilian that was blocked. Then João Pedro played a lovely ball to release Sarr, he found Bayo who touched the ball back to him, the shot was saved by the legs of Jones. Some lovely interplay between Sema and Bayo finished with a shot from the Swede that was just wide of the target. At the other end, Broadhead broke into the box and hit a shot that was well off target. Then McClean found Keane in the box, but he was unable to control the ball and Bachmann was able to make the catch. The home side had a decent chance to take the lead when a corner from McClean was headed back by Power for Keane who shot over the bar. The final act of the half was a booking for Sierralta. The guy behind me described the half as lacklustre, which felt a bit flattering. The Hornets had the better of the chances and put together some lovely moves, but neither keeper had been tested.
The Hornets were out early for the second half. Hopefully that would indicate an increase in the energy level. The first chance of the half fell to the home side, a deep cross from Power found McClean but the shot was over the target. The Hornets should have taken the lead with the next move, João Pedro went on a lovely run down the left before crossing for Sema who met it with a terrible header into the ground when he really should have hit the target. There was another booking for the home side as Shinnie was penalised for a foul on Sierralta. Then a meaty tackle from Choudhury was greeted with loud cheers from the travelling fans. The Hornets threatened again with a cross from Sema, but the Wigan keeper met the ball before Bayo could reach it. That was the Swede’s last action of the game as he was replaced by Kalu. The substitute was in action almost immediately when he was released by Gosling, but his first touch was too heavy and the ball went out for a goal kick. Bilić then made a second substitution bringing Asprilla on for Bayo. The home side also made a change replacing Broadhead with Magennis. There were shouts for a penalty when Asprilla was tripped after breaking into the box, but the appeals were waved away. The Hornets made a late change bringing Gaspar on for Gosling. With 10 minutes remaining, Kalu received a ball and this time his control was superb, he crossed for Sarr whose shot bounced off the keeper’s legs. With six minutes remaining, Naylor replaced Cousins for the home side.
The Hornets should have done better when Sarr crossed for João Pedro whose header was poor and missed the target. There was then a bit of brilliance from Kalu as he twisted and turned his way through the defence before putting in a shot that was headed for a corner. Just as we were settling for a point, a corner from Asprilla came back to him and he put in a lovely cross that João Pedro headed home to send the travelling Hornets wild. There had been very few goal chances, but the Hornets thoroughly deserved the lead. Wigan made a couple of late substitutions with McClean and Darikwa making way for Scully and Aasgaard. My heart sank when they announced that there would be 7 minutes of added time. The home side had a couple of late chances to rescue a point. First a shot from the edge of the area by Aasgaard that flew wide. Then, in the last minute, the home side won a corner. The keeper, Jones, went up for it. Power’s delivery was met by the head of Whatmough but, thankfully, his effort hit the bar and the Hornets took the three points back to Hertfordshire.
The walk along the canal back to the pub was lovely. The pub was packed, but we were quickly served and the evening was so mild that we were drinking outside. It hadn’t been a great game, but it was certainly a vast improvement on our recent trips to the North West. The second half had been much better than the first, but we are still not making enough of our chances. There were a number of lovely moves that were let down by the finishing. But the goal, when it came, was good and we were happy enough with the three points. It was particularly pleasing to have our first back-to-back wins since April 2021. The train that I was booked on was again cancelled, so I ended up travelling back with Jacque, enjoying a nice glass of wine and arriving home earlier than expected with a smile on my face after a lovely day out. We have four more games until the World Cup break. Let’s hope that we can build on the last two performances and go into the break challenging at the top of the table.